Author: Joe Brizzolara / March 22, 2018
The season of Lent is one of self-denial. It is a season of solemn observance when many Christian traditions call on followers to emulate the suffering of Christ who is purported to have spent 40 days fasting in the desert shortly before his crucifixion. Kaleb Havens, of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, decided to spend this Lent bringing awareness to homelessness in Los Angeles. He is spending 46 days on a hunger strike in Skid Row.
Kaleb has worked in Skid Row since 2013. The Los Angeles Catholic Worker provides 3,000 hot meals a week as well as free medical care and other amenities.
Kaleb is chained to a fence with three locks: one for Skid row, one for mayor Eric Garcetti, and one for Councilmember Jose Huizar whose district includes Skid Row. He says he came up with the idea of a hunger strike “about 10 days” before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Catholic season of Lent.
Los Angeles voters passed measure HHH in 2016, an initiative that authorizes $1.2 billion in bond money to fund homeless housing. But many homeless advocates in Los Angeles believe the money from HHH isn’t hitting the streets quick enough to deal with the growing problem of homelessness. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, L.A. County had 57,794 homeless residents in 2017. That’s up 23% from 2016.
Kaleb Havens believes part of the solution is here in Skid Row. Skid Row’s many vacant buildings, Kaleb believes, should be converted into homeless housing.
Kaleb on a conversation he had with Huizar who came to visit him on his hunger strike:
“Little policy; little of what’s possible, little of what’s not. I asked for things, he asked for things. He needs activists in the city meetings, in the committees, in the city council meetings, vocalizing promoting the solutions that are in line with our core values. For instance, the Permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance and the Motel Conversion Ordinance last week. Things that we’re trying to do to cut red tape, more housing options down here [in Skid Row] but it’s a long process.”
The Permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance is currently in committee. It expedites city approval for buildings that provide housing for the homeless and have on-site supportive services. If the building meets the requirements of the ordinance, it would not need to be approved by the City Council to begin construction. The Motel Conversion Ordinance allows for motels to be converted into permanent housing regardless of the building’s zoning. If approved by the Planning Committee, these ordinances will go before the City Council for a vote.
Kaleb Havens on his philosophy of property rights:
“The problem with land use is kind of embedded in our own psyche about what we believe are our own property rights. So most Americans, when you ask them, ‘well ya a developer can do with his own building whatever he wants if they bought it cause it’s their property’. And that’s true, for almost everything, to a certain point. Like if you’re a rich person sitting on a reserve, a cache of water in the middle of a drought, and you’re charging such exorbitantly high prices, or just not even selling that water, to the point where people are dying of thirst, than your property rights have violated someone else’s human rights. So there is a point where that doesn’t become true anymore… So we’re just educating people about how land use can be corrupt. For instance, just land banking and not even developing a property you buy, letting it sit empty while people die on the streets. That’s not an OK use of your personal property. Either s— or get off the pot. Either develop something that is of use to the community or let go of the asset. Cause vacant properties are taking up space that could be used to solve this crisis and they’re lowering everyone else’s property value because vacant properties are bad for cities.”
Kaleb on civic engagement and the struggle to end homelessness:
“We can’t do anything if people don’t make noise. If people don’t vote and just stay home and make a facebook post about how bad things are then don’t do anything. If you don’t go to a City Council meeting, if you don’t go to a Planning and Use Management meeting, if you don’t go to a Homelessness and Poverty meeting, if you don’t sign a petition meeting, if you don’t vote, if you don’t write your representative, you’re not doing s—. I am trying to generate conversation for this but this is just the first few steps in a very long marathon.”
Kaleb Havens points out that it is less expensive to provide permanent housing for homeless people than to have them live on the street.
A study commissioned by L.A. County found that formerly homeless people who were given permanent housing were hospitalized and arrested less. When accounting for the costs of permanent housing and supportive services, the county saw an average decline of 20% in spending.